Hanks to cakes might sound confusing to some but to knitters or crocheters this makes perfect sense. Hanks are usually what is sold in the yarn store. A yarn hank is yarn wound into a large circle and then folded among itself.
Once you are ready to use the hank, you will need to unwind it. If it is not done properlly, you will have a big knotted mess. A Yarn Swift is needed for unwinding. It does take room to use but stores away easily. The yarn is unfolded and the circle is carefully put on the swift.
Once the yarn hank is on the swift, the ball is ready to be wound up in a cake or ball. A yarn ball winder is needed at this point. I have been through several different types until I found this one from Fiber Artist Supply. It is made of wood and the best one I have come across. I like using a manual winder instead of electric. I can control the tension and if I see a knot, I can fix it right away.
This is the setup I use with both the ballwinder and swift.
I end up with yarn cakes.
HERE is a tutorial video on instructions on how to use a yarn swift and yarn winder. This is not the winder I have but it is pretty much the same concept. It has instructions about unwinding a hank as well.